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Ireland confronts political mutiny in wake of bailout

Ireland's Green Party has said it will pull out of its coalition under Prime Minister Brian Cowen. Cowen has called for elections in early 2011, but opposition leaders want a vote now.

By Correspondent / November 22, 2010

Irish Prime Minister Brian Cowen (2nd r.) speaks during a news conference on the steps of Government Buildings, in Dublin on Nov. 22. Cowen resisted calls for his resignation on Monday, vowing to stay in power long enough to pass an austerity budget needed for an EU/IMF bailout package, and then call an early election.

Cathal McNaughton/Reuters

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Dublin, Ireland

Ireland has been plunged into disarray as the Green Party said it intended to pull out of the coalition government. The announcement was rapidly followed by statements from two independent members of parliament suggesting they too were unlikely to support the government of Prime Minister Brian Cowen.

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A general election is expected in January at the latest, but opposition parties are calling for a vote now.

A spokesman for Mr. Cowen said today that the government was focused on crafting a new fiscal budget and completing economic recovery efforts, but the prime minister was meeting this evening with colleagues from his Fianna Fáil party to discuss the deepening political crisis. At least one of his colleagues, Dublin lawmaker Chris Andrews, has called for Mr. Cowen to resign as both prime minister and party leader.

The mutiny comes at a difficult time for Fianna Fáil, the senior partner in a coalition government with the Green Party. The government is negotiating the details of a joint European Central Bank-International Monetary Fund aid package and plans to announce its four-year economic recovery plan Wednesday. While the Green Party's pullout is not expected to jeopardize the ECB-IMF package, it has caused jitters across financial markets and fears that instability could spread elsewhere.

Fianna Fáil's poor leadership during the bailout crisis has caused the current political crisis, according to a Green Party source who did not wish to be identified. “I suppose it’s just a case of realizing what a mess things are and the way this ECB-IMF situation has been handled,” says the source.

Green Party calls for January election

The leader of the Green Party and Minister for the Environment John Gormley this morning announced his party’s intention to push for an election in the second half of January.

“We have now reached a point where the Irish people need political certainty to take them beyond the coming two months. So, we believe it is time to fix a date for a general election in the second half of January 2011,” he said.

A statement issued by the party said it intended to remain in government until January to contribute to the recovery plan, deliver the 2011 budget (due in December), and finalize the details of funding support from the EU and IMF.

A move for self-preservation

Kevin Bean, professor of Irish Studies at the University of Liverpool, told the Monitor that the Green Party's decision was driven by self-preservation. “Going into government was difficult for them and they’re [now] trying to salvage something [by walking out]," he says.

But he adds that the Green Party will not emerge unscathed from the current financial and political crisis. “They’re trying to ensure they’re not tarred as irresponsible. It won’t work. However, if they did walk out right now it would cause an absolutely tremendous crisis,” says Professor Bean.

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